03 John RobertsonJohn Robertson – Virtuosity
Sofia Philharmonic Orchestra; Anthony Armoré
Navona Records NV6223 (navonarecords.com)

In my review of a CD of orchestral works by John Robertson (Navona NV6167) that appeared in the September 2018 issue of The WholeNote, I called his neo-Romantic music “unfairly neglected” and praised his “lyrical gift… colourful and inventive scoring, unpretentious and essentially cheerful.”

Not all of Robertson’s music is “essentially cheerful,” however, as shown by this latest CD. In three concerted works featuring as soloists three principal players of the Sofia Philharmonic Orchestra, the Kingston-based Robertson (b.1943) reveals his more inward-looking side, at times tinged with melancholy. His “lyrical gift,” though, remains evident and continues to please in his Concerto for Clarinet and Strings Op.27 (1989), Concerto for Trumpet and Orchestra Op. 58 (2013) and the tone poem Hinemoa and Tutanekai Op.22 (1987), based on a legend of two Maori lovers from rival warring tribes. In it, Hinemoa hears and responds to the plaintive sound of Tutanekai’s flute as it wafts across the lake that keeps them apart.

Robertson’s even darker side is displayed in the opening Andante of his 27-minute Symphony No.3, Op.71 (2017), filled with dramatic foreboding, sinister repeated arpeggios and pounding rhythms. The mood lightens with the syncopated, Latino-like accents of the Vivace, while the concluding Allegro is lighter still, even “cheerful.”

In my previous review, I wrote that Robertson’s music “should be welcomed by Canadian orchestras and audiences.” The increasing exposure of his music on CD might just be what it takes to make that happen.

05 Victoria BondVictoria Bond – Instruments of Revelation
Chicago Pro Musica
Naxos 8.559864 (naxos.com)

Four works dating from 2005 to 2011 display some of the wide expressive range of American Victoria Bond (b.1945). Three figures from tarot cards are portrayed in Instruments of Revelation: The Magician (in Bond’s words “mysterious…dexterous”), The High Priestess (“wisdom…passion”) and The Fool (“comedy…chaos”). Cleverly scored for flute, clarinet, violin, cello and piano, the first two movements are very engaging and attractively descriptive, while The Fool, in wild confusion, lurches and falls across many slippery glissandi.

In Frescoes and Ash for clarinet/bass clarinet, string quintet, piano and percussion, six artworks from Pompeii are depicted, most strikingly in the raucous Street Musicians (the CD’s cover image) and the languid rippling of Marine Mosaic. The seventh movement, Ash: Awareness of Mortality, is a haunting dirge for the doomed city.

“I’ve been drawn to Ulysses… since high school… because the writing resembles the way I think… in fleeting images and allusions, in a stream of consciousness.” Bond previously set Molly Bloom’s soliloquy and here, in her 20-minute Leopold Bloom’s Homecoming (from Episode 17), tenor Rufus Müller, accompanied by pianist Jenny Lin, speaks the questions and sings Bloom’s answers. However, Joyce’s convoluted text, included in the booklet, renders moot whether the music, lyrical or dramatic, fits the words.

Finally, pianist Olga Vinokur performs Binary, a heavily percussive seven-minute piece whose first movement reminded me of Thelonious Monk, followed by a set of variations on a Brazilian samba, ending a disc of very mixed imagery, pleasures and perplexity.

06 Fuego QuartetMigration
Fuego Quartet
Ravello Records RR8010 (ravellorecords.com)

The Fuego Quartet (Nicki Roman, soprano; Eric Elmgren, alto; Harrison Clarke, tenor, and Gabriel Piqué, baritone) was founded in 2015 at the Eastman School of Music. Their album Migration’s sophistication shows how far the saxophone quartet’s repertoire has moved from predominantly French composers and Scott Joplin rags. For example, David Maslanka’s five-part Recitation Book recomposes Bach chorales. Many of the pieces are quite meditative and the Fuego Quartet blends together seamlessly with little vibrato to create a gentle wall of harmony. The final track, Fanfare/Variations on “Durch Adams Fall,” is a lengthy piece combining the boisterous with the liturgical.

William Albright’s Fantasy Etudes is a six-part work opening with a Prelude which combines elements of the other sections and then moves into A Real Nice Number, an ironic homage to Debussy’s Claire de Lune. Pypes is a lilting piece evoking bagpipes; The Fives for Steve is dedicated to the memory of a composer friend; and the Phantom Galop was inspired by the Lone Ranger. Harmonium, based on childhood memories of the instrument, possesses an incredible and quiet intensity and could be my favourite on the album. The final section, They Only Come Out at Night, is a tribute to 50s and 60s cop shows on TV.

David Clay Mettens’ Ornithology S is a ten-minute tour de force based on Juan Fontanive’s animated sculptures of birds that are a remarkable re-imagining of flip books. It involves complex rhythmic sections, intricate pad clicking, subtle multiphonics and delicate slap tonguing, and demonstrates how impeccably the quartet plays together as they interpret difficult pieces.

07 Liptak Dove SongsDavid Liptak – Dove Songs
Tony Arnold; Alison d’Amato; Renée Jolles; Margaret Kampmeier; Dieter Hennings Yeomans; Steven Doane; Barry Snyder
New Focus Recordings FCR224 (naxosdirect.com)

American composer David Liptak composes texturally rich, colourful and contrasting musical sounds in four compositions here. The title track, Dove Songs, is a six-part song cycle composed for soprano Tony Arnold, who performs it with superb pianist Alison d’Amato. Arnold’s enchanting voice grasps all the contrasting storytelling/musical elements of the work, based on poetry by 1987 Pulitzer Prize-winner Rita Dove. Great moments include the dramatic vocal high pitches and piano tinkling like snow and frost in The Snow King, short phrases with subtle humourous undertones emulating domestic life’s ups and downs in Beauty and the Beast, and faster lighter lines with a final high-pitched vocal note and piano flourish in Flirtation.

More intense lyricism and held notes feature in Impromptus, composed for and played by violinist Renée Jolles with pianist Margaret Kampmeier. The duo shines in the contrasting conversational solo lines which shorten until they overlap simultaneously in the second movement, Lyrical. The seven-movement guitar solo suite, The Sighs, explores the melancholy of seven artists. Guitarist Dieter Hennings Yeomans brings out the clever compositional use of Rameau’s Baroque counterpoint in the fluctuating guitar line in the Les Soupirs and Petite Reprise movements. The extremely moving musical sentiment of Beautiful Dreamer, based on the Stephen Foster song of the same name, is unforgettable. Sonata for Cello and Piano has cellist Steven Doane and pianist Barry Synder perform a zippy second-movement race to the finish!

David Liptak’s memorable, lyrical, original compositions are timeless!

Listen to 'David Liptak: Dove Songs' Now in the Listening Room

02 Brodie WestKick It ’Till You Flip It
Eucalyptus
Lorna 10/ HAVN 054 (brodiewest.com)

Alto saxophonist/composer Brodie West makes music that’s both exploratory and engaging, growing from varied experiences playing jazz and its transmutations in Toronto and further afield, including stints with Dutch drummer Han Bennink and Ethiopian saxophonist Getatchew Mekuria. West’s groups typically emphasize rhythm (his eponymous quintet has two drummers), but his octet, Eucalyptus, takes it further. Drummers Nick Fraser, Evan Cartwright and Blake Howard feed data to West and trumpeter Nicole Rampersaud as they bounce around the multi-directional polyrhythms and ostinatos.

West’s compositions can suggest African pop music, but they also have affinities with a broad swath of work, from Terry Riley to Ornette Coleman. Something Sparkly is perfectly dreamlike, its slow theme weaving through bright electric guitar and exotic overlapping rhythms. It suggests Sun Ra’s stately early music, a resemblance heightened by Ryan Driver’s trebly clavinet, a keyboard Sun Ra called a “solar sound instrument.” West’s solo seems suspended between melody and birdcall. The title track develops with the horns playing a short, taut figure, then gradually moving out of synch with one another amidst the various rhythmic paths at hand. The entire LP testifies to West’s artful concision, but his compressed, expressionist solo here is a miracle of improvisational economy.

The final track, Triller, is another beautiful floating mystery, its minimalist components ultimately weaving a complex whole; it’s enhanced by Alex Lukashevsky’s bending guitar tones, until parts drop away and only electric bassist Mike Smith’s pulsing ostinato remains.

03 One Night in KarlsruheOne Night In Karlsruhe
Michel Petrucciani; Gary Peacock; Roy Haynes
SWR Jazzhaus JAH-476 (naxosdirect.com)

Michel Petrucciani, who once said, “I think someone upstairs saved me from being ordinary,” followed up his proclamation with a vast discography of truly extraordinary music. He had the virtuosity of an Oscar Peterson and the fluttering lyricism of Bill Evans and Keith Jarrett. However, his playing is characterized by a singular voice driven by an almost primal energy and an edgy emotionality. Although he was marked, throughout his short life, with monumental pain from osteogenesis imperfecta, his music expressed unfettered feelings of joy.

One Night in Karlsruhe, made at a live performance in July 1988, captures him at the height of his pianistic powers and he appears to be made completely of music. Petrucciani always had an infectious way with dancing rhythms and the program is rich in expressive contrasts and diverse song forms in which dance and variation occupy a position of importance throughout. His playing – on 13th, In a Sentimental Mood, Embraceable You and a signature bravura version of Giant Steps – has a particularly magical touch to it and he responds to the diabolical changes on the latter with spontaneity – while at the same time communicating the music’s sense of colour and of pageant.

Petrucciani also approaches the music’s harmonic boldness and astringency with a kind of vivid bas-relief. He is accompanied, on this sojourn, by bassist Gary Peacock and living legend, drummer Roy Haynes. The intensity of this power trio is magnificently captured on this recording.

04 Kayla RamuLiving in a Dream
Kalya Ramu
Independent (kalyaramu.ca)

One of my favourite songs to request is You Go To My Head – a gorgeous ballad that, admittedly, is not all that easy to pull off if you haven’t done your homework. So when a singer nails it, I am won over, as I was upon hearing Toronto-based jazz vocalist Kalya Ramu’s sultry and soulful version, one of 11 beautifully rendered tracks featured on her debut album, Living in a Dream, which includes four of her original compositions. Ramu’s voice has a warmth, depth and maturity to it that belies her 25 years. As a young girl, she fell under the spell of Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald and Peggy Lee, and it shows; I also hear hints of Helen Merrill and Doris Day.

Like her jazz vocalist heroines, Ramu understands the importance of phrasing (something often lacking in younger singers), allowing time for the natural arc of a line to wend its way to the next one, as is evident in her sensuous rendition of What’s New, as well as in her lovely ballad, Find in Me, and her torchy/sexy She Drinks Alone.

The woman can also swing! With stellar assistance from tenor saxophonist and clarinettist Jacob Gorzhaltsan, pianist Ewen Farncombe, bassist Connor Walsh and drummer Ian Wright (and assorted special guests), Ramu serves up spirited takes on Just You Just Me, Four or Five Times and It’s A Good Day. A singer warranting your attention, Kalya Ramu’s debut CD is dreamy, indeed.

05 Jean DeromeSomebody Special
Jean Derome
Ambiances Magnetiques AM 249 (actuellecd.com)

Saxophonist/composer Jean Derome’s work ranges from explorations of modernist masters like Monk and Mingus to his own conceptual epics like Résistances, his orchestral homage to the North American electrical grid. Here he explores the work of Steve Lacy (1934-2004), a key influence on Derome who advocated strongly for Thelonious Monk’s compositions and developed the foundations of free jazz with Cecil Taylor. Lacy also created a large body of art songs unique in modern jazz. Derome explores the range of them here, including settings of works from ancient China to the Beat Generation.

Derome brings his regular trio partners to the project, bassist Normand Guilbeault and drummer Pierre Tanguay, masters of propulsive and varied grooves. They’re joined by pianist Alexandre Grogg and the singer Karen Young, whose eclectic background matches the varied demands of Lacy’s music. The text settings include surprising authors like Lao Tzu, Thomas Gainsborough and Herman Melville; the latter’s Art initiates the program with a minimalist setting that suggests Japanese court music.

While those lyricists are as famous as they are unlikely, several of the highlights here come from Lacy’s association with the relatively little-known Canadian expatriate Brion Gysin, a literary collaborator with William S. Burroughs. Gysin’s playful, vibrant, hipster verses fall naturally on modern jazz inflections: when Derome joins his voice with Young’s on Blue Baboon, the group creates a witty update on the scat vocal group of the 1950s who rarely found lyrics this germane.

07 VoyageCoco Swirl
Ratchet Orchestra
Ambiances Magnetiques AM 248 (actuellecd.com)

From Nimmons ‘N’ Nine Plus Six to Vancouver’s NOW Orchestra, despite the economics, Canadians have somehow produced highly creative big bands. Montreal’s Ratchet Orchestra was a quintet in 1993; today its founder-composer-bassist-conductor Nic Caloia leads a 19-member ensemble with the breadth and force of Sun Ra’s Arkestra or a Charles Mingus big band. Like them, it invokes Duke Ellington’s legacy of rich textures and intense turbulence while emphasizing distinctive solo voices. It has a traditional big band’s power, with five reeds and five brass, but expands its palette with violin, two violas and the eerie profundity of bass reeds and tuba.

Caloia’s compositions range from the traditionally modernist to the avant-garde, with a band composed of individuals who define Montreal’s free-jazz community. The opening Tub features the brilliant alto saxophonist Yves Charuest, as abstractly evasive as Lee Konitz. The rousing Raise Static Backstage, fuelled by Isaiah Ciccarelli’s rampaging drum solo, might appeal to any fan of Dizzy Gillespie’s legendary bebop big band, while Blood, an atmospheric setting for Sam Shalabi’s distorted guitar, touches on the later works of Gil Evans.

Caloia’s most personal and ambitious work is saved for the conclusion, the six-part Before Is After, a weave of compound rhythms and evasive fragments knit together with unlikely matchings of instruments and forceful soloists, including violinist Joshua Zubot and bass saxophonist Jason Sharp. Ratchet Orchestra is both a distinctive Montreal institution and national standard bearer for a creative tradition

08a ClockwiseClockwise
Anna Webber
Pi Recordings P179 (pirecordings.com)

Reaching an elevated trajectory following her last CD, BC-born, New York-based tenor saxophone/flutist Anna Webber aided by a seasoned septet, re-conceptualizes impressions of 20th-century composers’ percussion works into new compostions.

Percussiveness not percussion is the major focus, even though her studio reassembling of Ches Smith’s echoing tympani on the Feldmanesque King of Denmark II is suitably staggering. Mostly though Smith sticks to drums and vibraphone to provide the precise clamour and ringing clatter that swing alongside Jacob Garchik’s emotional trombone flow; place-marking stops or sweeping glissandi from Christopher Hoffman’s cello and Chris Tordini’s bass; pulsing chromatics from pianist Matt Mitchell; and stylistic chirps or snarls from Webber and tenor saxophonist/clarinetist Jeremy Viner.

Oddly separated on opposite ends of the disc, three variations on King of Denmark and two of Korē are equally striking. Sparkling piano chords mixed with squirming saxophone riffs build up to a heraldic crescendo in the first part of King of Denmark. Meanwhile Mitchell’s intermittent comping, percussion breaks and audacious plunger vocalizing from Garchik’s trombone bring passion to the Xenakis-inspired Korē I. Webber even manages to extract a melodic groove from Array, a homage to Babbitt. Her delicate flute whistles are challenged by precision trombone glides and clarinet swells, until the piece becomes harder edged with Mitchell’s keyboard cadenzas, but still maintains unexpected warmth.

Overall the performances, which also touch on Cage, Varèse and Stockhausen influences, aren’t merely turned clockwise, but highly original creations directed by Webber.

01 Amanda MartinezLibre
Amanda Martinez
Sola Records (amandamartinez.ca)

Singer-songwriter Amanda Martinez delves deeper into her background with the release of Libre. The daughter of a Mexican father and South African mother, Martinez has been exploring her Latin roots for years now, so it’s the African side that’s new here. Produced by her longtime collaborator, guitarist Kevin Laliberté, Martinez has enlisted a handful of singers and songwriters – such as Canadian jazz singer Kellylee Evans and Cuban-born Pablosky Rosales – for the ten original songs on Libre. Kevin Laliberté's distinctive guitar playing and Donné Roberts’ beautiful warm vocals blend perfectly with Martinez’s light pretty voice. Bassist (and Martinez’s husband) Drew Birston and percussionist Rosendo “Chendy” Leon round out the core band. Standout tracks include Begin and En La Distancia.

The album has a predominantly Latin sound to it (Mexican and a little flamenco here and there) and I found the African touches to be quite subtle. This is partly due to the fact that most of the lyrics are in Spanish. For those of us who don’t understand that language, translations are available on Martinez’s website. The poetic lyrics’ main themes are love and longing in its many forms – for a land, a lover or a child. Or you could not worry about what the lyrics say and just let the music wash over you and carry you away. The album has a sweet, old-fashioned feel to it that gives us a welcome escape to gentler times and idyllic places.

Listen to 'Libre' Now in the Listening Room

02 Gloaming3
The Gloaming
Justin Time JTR 8617-2 (justin-time.com)

For their third salvo, contemporary Irish fusion quintet, The Gloaming, has released an intriguing piece of work that not only embraces traditional Irish motifs, but seeps into the modalities of contemporary and neo-classical, piano-driven musics. This is authentic, indigenous, world music enfolded sumptuously into a thought-provoking new music setting. Pianist (and producer) Thomas Bartlett is the spine of the ensemble, fearlessly injecting skilled, rhythmic elements into the music. The haunting, sibilant vocals of Iarla Ó Lionáird inform much of the material, and transport the listener back into the mists of time. With three Irish and two Irish-American members, the music also speaks to the inter-generational scars of the near genocide of the Irish people, and the resulting painful, global diaspora.

The splendid, passionate and skilled work of generational fiddler, Martin Hayes, gauges the intensity of the music and Hardanger d’Amore player Caoimhin Ó Raghallaigh consistently elicits a warm, substantive sound from his viola-like instrument (with sympathetic strings). Along with guitarist Dennis Cahill they establish the musical pulse, the very heartbeat of the goddess Danu herself.

Highlights of this expertly recorded CD include Meachán Rudaí and Amhrán na nGleannI. The former is a setting of a poem by Liam Ó Muirthile (about a son remembering his late mother), and the latter is an ancient tune lamenting the death of a chieftain, and also a song that Lionáird has been performing since he was a small boy. Also of special note is Reo, written by the ensemble, and featuring lyrics drawn from a poem by the iconic mid-20th-century Irish poet, Seán Ó Ríordáin.

Listen to '3' Now in the Listening Room

03 Norah Jones Begin AgainBegin Again
Norah Jones
Blue Note Records B002978602 (bluenote.com)

Begin Again is the reflection of an artist who’s continuing to develop and evolve. Norah Jones first came on the scene in 2002 with Come Away With Me, which introduced a fresh, gorgeous voice with a jazz sensibility that was a shift from the prevailing pop music of the time. That release turned Jones into a global phenomenon and over the years, she’s continued to release successful, Grammy-winning records and collaborate with a diverse range of artists like Herbie Hancock, Outkast and Foo Fighters.

Begin Again is an eclectic collection of original tunes co-produced by Jones and recorded at various studios with a handful of collaborators such as guitarist Jeff Tweedy of Wilco fame and drummer-extraordinaire, Brian Blade. The tone is set with the powerful opening track My Heart is Full and many of the songs, such as Uh Oh and Just a Little Bit, continue in that experimental vein, with the musicians laying down a meditative bed and Jones layering vocals over top. The album is keyboard dominant, courtesy of Thomas Bartlett, Pete Remm and Jones herself. Although calling Remm’s sublime Hammond B3 work “dominant” isn’t capturing the subtle textures he lends to the songs.

Missing from Begin Again are some of those exquisite, soulful ballads that Jones does so well – though Wintertime comes close. So while the album is a good listen and full of fine musicianship, it won’t break your heart.

04 Andy MilneThe Seasons of Being
Andy Milne & Dapp Theory
Sunnyside SSC 1482 (andymilne.com)

Following his battle with prostate cancer, gifted composer and pianist, Andy Milne determined to channel the concepts of homeopathy (which he had utilized in his recovery) into a new kind of musical synthesis. This manifested into a fascinating, largely improvisational project for his long-running ensemble, Dapp Theory. During Milne’s recovery, his illuminations surrounding the relationship of musical “one-ness” and physical healing, morphed into a Chamber Music America commission, presented here as Seasons of Being. One aspect of Milne’s intent was to compose for the individual musicians in his ensemble, in non-restrictive ways that would allow them to grow, explore and also function as an integrated creative organism.

Joining Milne on this recording are his venerable bandmates, Christopher Tordini on bass, Kenny Grohowski on drums, Aaron Kruziki on woodwinds and John Moon on vocals. Also taking part is an array of talented guests, including Ben Monder on guitar, Ralph Alessi on trumpet and Christopher Hoffman, cello.

The CD kicks off with Surge and Splendor – a rhythmic and spoken word foray (perfectly attenuated by Grohowski’s drums) which fearlessly probes the rich embroidery of life’s components, finally segueing into a woodwind bubble from Kruziki that surrounds the entire ensemble – like a healthy, plump cell – bursting with creativity and life force, exemplified by Mondor’s vibrant guitar solo, and lovely, diaphanous cello work by Hoffman. Also of special profundity is The Guardian, featuring Alessi’s gorgeous trumpet.

One need not subscribe to the practice of homeopathy to resonate with this heady recording, because no one can dispute the healing power and collaborative magic of music.

05 kamancelloKamancello II: Voyage
Shahriyar Jamshidi; Raphael Weinroth-Browne
Independent (kamancello.bandcamp.com)

The invented portmanteau word Kamancello serves as the name of the Toronto-based duo of Kurdish Iranian kamanche player and composer Shahriyar Jamshidi and classically trained Canadian cellist and composer Raphael Weinroth-Browne. Joining forces around four years ago they’ve taken audiences into transcultural musical territories as yet unexplored. They describe their music as “East-meets-West,” rendering “improvised performances [that] transcend genres and cultural boundaries.” But that’s a modest appraisal of the rich journey they take us on in Kamancello II: Voyage, their second album.

Improvisation is undoubtedly present in abundance here, but there are also well-developed modal frameworks and formal structures at work too. There are four extended pieces titled Emergent, Tenebrous, Voyage and Threnody, each with a well-defined shape. They begin quietly without pulse, exploring ornamented melodies, slowly developing a polyphonic texture trough sensitive interplay between the musicians. The duo’s seamless exchange of lyrical melodies is influenced both by the Kurdish and Iranian modal world as well as by the pre-modern classical cello repertoire. Each performance then segues to a dance-like section with Weinroth-Browne’s virtuoso cello often providing the forceful accompaniment, performing fast-moving bowed climaxes accented by fortissimo bass notes. In places we’re reminded of his progressive metal and neo-folk affiliations. That dense energy propels the music forward, providing welcome contrast to the stillness of other sections, a kind of a narrative arch.

Throughout, Jamshidi and Weinroth-Browne give each other a generous amount of breathing room to express the wide range of human experiences suggested by the track titles. On re-listening, it struck me how this music also gifts listeners the space to venture on our own inner journeys too.

Accomplished and profound music – especially when including a hearty slab of improvisation – can call on many inspirations and be played on an infinite number of soundmakers. Proof of these statements is discernible on these notable discs, featuring a range of traditional, novel, electric and acoustic instruments and with influences encompassing mainstream composition, wave form experimentations, and even legumes.

01 BartokThe most conventional of these unconventional sessions is Bartók Impressions (BMC CD 254 bmcrecords.hu) since the tracks are based on works by Béla Bartók (1881-1945). The most notable feature on this Budapest-recorded disc is that besides the double bass of Hungarian-in-France Mátyás Szandai and the violin of Paris-based Mathias Lévy, one prominent sound here is from the traditional hammered zither called the cimbalom played by Hungarian Miklós Lukács. Perhaps the program is also notable since, with two-thirds of the band Magyar and Bartóks themes sometimes based on Eastern European folk melodies, familiarity is paramount. At the same time, Lukács’ dexterous skill gives the 13 improvisations a unique quality. When struck, the cimbalom takes on vibraphone and percussion qualities; when plucked, harp or guitar-like tones. A defining instance of this is on Romanian Folk Dances No.4, where Levy’s elaboration of the melancholy theme is soon toughened by seemingly simultaneous harp-like twangs and rhythmic mallet string stabs from the cimbalom. This virtuosic versatility is expressed from the first track onwards. On that one, Reflections on New Year’s Greeting No.4, for instance, boiling double bass plucks cement the pulse as mallet lopes create a bouncy countermelody to the gorgeous tones of the fiddle’s airy narrative. The jittery, jazzy Improvisations on Romanian Folk Dances No.4 finds Lukács comping like a pianist, Szandai with well-modulated plucks and with Levy’s staccato stopping in the highest register suggesting both Transylvanian wedding music and tavern revelry. In contrast, a few other tracks are recital-like formal, at least in the expositions. They include a mellow showcase of balanced cello-like tones from the bassist on Improvisations on Romanian Christmas Carols No.7, completed by foot-tapping glissandi with klezmer overtones. The most accomplished, intricate transformation, which highlights another aspect of Lukács’ adaptability, occurs on Reflections on Six Bulgarian Rhythms. The cimbalom’s mallet reverberations turn him into a Magyar Milt Jackson, at the same time as fiddle squeaks at dog-whistle pitches amplify the pulse, and double bass plucks intensify the rhythms. Staying true to the composer’s initial vision though, the piece ends with a wide connective interlude of warm romantic timbres.

02 FullmanEven though another modern composer is involved, there are no warm romantic timbres heard during the The Air around Her (Skivbolaget 1703-3 edition-festival.com), since American composer Ellen Fullman and Korean-American cellist Okkyung Lee are concerned with the dynamic contrasts or blends produced by exposing the latter’s string techniques, with the possibilities engendered by plucking Fullman’s self-created Long String Instrument (LSI). The LSI is tuned in just intonation, and in this instance, stretched 26 metres across a room in Stockholm’s Performing Art Museum. During the performance the LSI creates a droning continuum, plus almost imperceptible timbre shifts throughout the two tracks of about 20 minutes each, subtly redefining the relentless drone with multiple layers of speed, volume and pitch. Eventually variegated cello definitions move forward to challenge the LSI’s unhurried horizontal interface with col legno-created percussive raps on wood and strings, plus stropping and slicing sul ponticello vibrations. Part II finds LSI’s organ-like tremolo grinds subsiding from taking up the entire room’s aural space so that palimpsest-like cello’s nuanced narratives are more obvious. These serrated bow jiggles and cello expansions reach a crescendo of almost identical inflated tones from both instruments before dissolving into microtones. In retrospect the recital has been enthralling without being deadening or frightening.

03 LORDespite the presence of veteran British tabletop-guitarist Keith Rowe on L’Or (Mikroton Recordings CD 68 mikroton.net), the defining sonic patterns are focused on his use of electronics, blended with the programmed patches of French computer-coder Julien Ottavi plus the modular synthesizer and cracked everyday and homemade electronics of Russian Kurt Liedwart. While faint allusions to conventional tones sporadically pierce the churning miasma produced by the trio, sound emphasis moves among voltage charges, supple thwacks and synthesized sound envelopes, underscored by waveform buzzing. Especially on the extended and defining Aurum, blurry loops of constantly pulsating whooshes and signal processing melded into a undulating drone, include few compositional transitions. When they do arrive, these textural lacerations only minimally alter volume or pitch, taking the form of thickened flanges, watery pops, windy squalls, wiggling tone fluctuations and fan-belt-like flapping. As these clips and pops harden into a sold mass followed by silence, one must accept the group’s continuously repeated drones as creating a nearly inert entity, where appreciation comes from noting the reflected sound tinctures and angles rather than an ambulatory program.

04 SnipettesWhile electronics are now accepted as instruments, some musicians have accelerated the search for innovative sounds further, creating programs from collages of already existing material. For instance, Martin Tétreault’s Plus de Snipettes!! (Ambiances Magnétiques AM 245 CD actuellecd.com), is a sprawling 77-minute program in which the Montrealer constructs a wholly original recital from audio cassettes, tape reels, short-wave static, radio soundchecks and excerpts of untouched or cut-up vinyl. With each of the 31 [!] tracks lasting from about seven seconds to around seven minutes, the collages captivate with sheer audacity. Entertaining while sometimes making sardonic comments, this homage and burlesque of recorded sound is satire mixed with love. Not adverse to snipping French or English narrations from educational or instructional discs to foreshadow subsequent noises, Tétreault’s mashups are free of cant. Snippets of a Verèse or Boulez composition are slotted next to a flute improvisation, a snatch of disco sounds or a piano picking out Polly Wolly Doodle. Crunching noises created by train movement can fuse into a drum instruction record and then the flanges of backwards-running tape. At point his manipulations make succinct inferences, as when Dave Holland’s bass solo on Emerald Tears is juxtaposed with the sounds of a man crying. Other times connection leads to spoof, as when a ponderous lecturer’s voice outlining a complex phrase with the word “basis” in it is cut to become “bass” and later “mace” and repeated numerous times, becoming an electronic-dance rhythm in the process. Manipulations in speed and pitch turn juxtaposition of Sidney Bechet’s soprano saxophone and a Dixieland drum solo into frantic microtones. And if that isn’t enough, Tétreault creates abstract sound collages by cutting several LPs into many sections, gluing together the parts and recording the results so that a chorus of Soviet military singers fades into jazz piano chording and unknown speechifying, with the entire exercise surmounted by the crackles from divided and sutured vinyl.

05 VegetableShould Tétreault’s experiments not be organic enough, then an established Viennese ensemble can provide the antidote. On Green Album (Transacoustic Research tres 009 transacoustic-research.com), the ten-piece Vegetable Orchestra performs music on instruments that are made entirely from vegetable parts. On highly rhythmic tracks such as Fasern and Beet-L for instance, the funk arises from the beats of calabash bass and celery bongos with the vamping melody courtesy of a carrot marimba. Or multiphonic whistles from the carrot recorder evolve alongside the beanbag shaker and calabash bass on Bamako. While elastic sound animation is maintained throughout the 14 tracks, that doesn’t mean there aren’t serious sounds in this vegetable stew. The hissing counterpoint that enlivens tracks such as Schwarzmooskogel, for example, could be part of the recipe for any advanced music program, even if the horizontal swirls are from a leek violin, the high-pitched peeps from a radish horn and the beat propelled by a pumpkin bass drum.

While only the final disc could in some circumstances provide nourishment for the stomach as well as the mind, each of these CDs captures a way of using unusual instruments to create profound sounds.

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